Have I mentioned how much I love this book? Have I mentioned that I love how it simultaneously opens my eyes to fascinating, new information, but also reconfirms some of my most closely held philosophies and beliefs? Well, now I have.
Chapter 4 had me right out of the gate. One of my big soapbox topics is the importance of not just spoon-feeding information to kids, but helping them build connections, and essentially learn how to think about that information, not just recite it. I’ve mentioned before that one of the ways I evaluate a classroom is by the types of teacher talk that occurs there. Is the majority of teacher talk simply direction (“…put this here, write this there”), instruction (“This is why this works…”), or is it discussion (“Why do you think this works?”)? Connections are built by children, through their play and their discussion, and I strongly believe that integrating that connection-building needs to be a critical part of every classroom and every home.
I enjoyed reading all the research backing up the importance of play-based learning in this chapter. It’s true that play is how children take knowledge and build connections by applying that knowledge, exploring it, and giving it context. Particularly as this chapter addressed math and spatial skills, examples were given, pointing the powerful connections children build as they play board games, make block constructions, sort objects, and explore the properties of different objects. All of these are commonplace in a play-based classroom. I also appreciated the emphasis on how guided play can extend a child’s learning, but that the role of a guide is not that of a boss. It is to guide with questions rather than to simply take over the play and show them how it’s done.
Connections and the Brain
At one point in this chapter, I wondered why there was so much emphasis on math skills in the “making connections” chapter. Page 173 made that all clear, and was particularly fascinating to me. Many activities require different parts of the brain to work in unison, but mathematical thinking is a perfect example of how the different areas of the brain are put to work, building connections to operate in unison. Between the inferior parietal cortex of both hemispheres, the language system in the Broca area of the left hemisphere, and the occipitotemporal region in both hemispheres, a network is woven to produce mathematical operations. It’s a perfect example of why learning is more than an information in – information out process.
Creativity and the Arts
Bringing connections together with creativity was also thought-provoking. As the chapter notes in Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s observation, today is the information age, and the “answers” are literally a click or a tap away. Because of this, in today’s world — perhaps more than at any other time — “the person who stands out is the person who can make connections among things that are known to come up with solutions and innovations not yet known or even imagined.”
This is the skill set I think we are truly trying to cultivate in our children. Knowledge building and fact learning is important, but if we stop there we’re doing our children a huge disservice. Teaching them to be “passionately curious” is more important, in my opinion, that teaching them all the answers.
Ellen Galinsky puts forth some very interesting points as she links participation in the various arts to success, learning, and motivation outcomes. As she says on page 183, “Many people don’t know about these connections. Why else would the arts be among the first on the chopping block when school budgets face a difficult economy or pressures to increase test scores?”
I find it ironic that our schools often try to increase performance (usually for standardized tests) by decreasing connections. In fact, I was most startled when my sister relayed to me that one of her local schools, due to concerns over low reading and math scores (which happen to be the areas tested) was stripping everything else out of their curriculum and focusing solely on reading and math. It seems completely backwards.
Removing areas where skills are applied, connections are made, and interest is generated would likely do little to help scores, and more assuredly do nothing to benefit curious minds. What about kids who read because they want to know more about science? What about the math that is practiced naturally during music? I believe children will learn more when they are allowed to build meaningful connections than when they practice skills in isolation. Compartmentalizing programs and attempting to evaluate them based on their “academic merit” removes the context in which connections are built. Rather than pulling out our “non-essentials” we should be putting more emphasis on building an interconnected approach.
So that’s it for my soapbox. What did you find interesting in Chapter 4?
Join us next week for Chapter 5, and remember to be writing down the questions you’d love to ask Ellen Galinsky at the end of our review!